Bayou Cafe’s upcoming closure brings end to 30 years of live music in downtown Savannah

WSAV NOW

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — After three decades of bringing live entertainment to downtown Savannah, a local venue will soon shut its doors for good.

Bayou Cafe will close permanently on Jan. 31 at midnight, marking the end of an era for the iconic River Street venue.

Owner Vincent Zambito says his father, musician Jerry Zambito, first opened the bar in 1991.

The bar and restaurant regularly hosted several bands and acts, from both near and far, during its 30-year run.

“The Black Crowes played here, my dad jammed with them,” Zambito told WSAV NOW.

He named the Hitman Band, and musicians Dennis “Chief” Hinely and David Harbuck, among those who brought the venue to life with blues, classic and southern rock.

“Consistently, we’ve been the only place in Savannah that’s had live music seven nights a week for the last 30 years, we don’t miss a night unless it’s a hurricane,” said Zambito, who’s been running Bayou Cafe since late 2005.

The owner says for many of the staff and musicians who have worked there, the venue has served as a launchpad for their success.

“Some of the most rewarding things I’m proud of is a lot of our staff have gone on to open their own restaurants, their own bars,” Zambito said.

“Helping them be successful in all their endeavors has been a big part of what we do, and seeing them come in, learn a lot, teach us some things and move on to better things,” he said.

Acoustic rock musician Thomas Claxton has played the Bayou Cafe’s stage for more than 20 years. 

Claxton, who also assists with booking acts, tells WSAV NOW that the venue was the first place to ever pay him to play live music. 

“It’s been a wild ride, no doubt,” he said as he sat on stage for one of the final times.

“The Bayou was always here, even after I started branching out and going out of state and playing in Los Angeles, New York and working with bigger names, I always had the Bayou Cafe to come back to,” Claxton said.

“It really, what I would say, was the foundation of my career,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun, sad to see the place go.”

While a number of small businesses have suffered amid the economic impacts of the pandemic, Zambito shares that it’s not the reason they’re shutting Bayou Cafe’s doors.

“We’ve had quite a bit of local support, been able to do to-go meals, and our food truck really helped save this place,” he said, adding, “The bottom line is because the rent increase is just too much for us to take on at this time.”

Across the country, Claxton says, venues like Bayou Cafe appear to be a dying breed.

“You’re seeing, you know, different types of things moving in, which might not necessarily be bad, but these mom-and-pop-type places, they have a certain character about them, and the Bayou was one of those places,” he said.

The musician, who has three albums under his belt, hopes Bayou Cafe will be remembered by patrons for its live music and fun atmosphere.

“I hope that when people look back on the Bayou…they really appreciate what the Bayou was all about, which was just having a good time, and enjoying one of those lost art forms these days of just strictly focusing on that live entertainment,” Claxton said.

Before closing for good at January’s end, the Bayou Cafe will host its final events each day beginning on Jan. 28.

“We’ll have some jam sessions, we’ll try to get some of the local acts that have played here for years and years to come in and just kind of do a farewell,” Zambito said.

He says starting in February, the business plans to continue serving the community via its food truck.

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